Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reverse Intelligence

Since, by general agreement, we reserve the term “artificial intelligence” for non-human entities like computers, Daniel Greenfield was obliged to use the term “manufactured intelligence” to refer to a peculiar intellectual phenomenon.

I would call it reverse intelligence, though I am not certain that that is very much better.

Practitioners of  “manufactured intelligence” do not spend their time trying to educate or inform. They excel at making their readers feel like they belong to a class of intellectually superior beings.

Writing on his Sultan Knish blog, Greenfield explains:

Today as never before there is an industry dedicated, not to educating people, but to making them feel smart. From paradigm shifting TED talks to paradigm to books by thought leaders and documentaries by change agents that transform your view of the world, manufactured intelligence has become its own culture.

Manufactured intelligence is the smarmy quality that oozes out of a New York Times column by Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Frank Bruni and the rest of the gang who tell you nothing meaningful while dazzling you with references to international locations, political events and pop culture, tying together absurdities into one synergistic web of nonsense that feels meaningful.

Take Barack Obama. He has mastered the art of making other people feel smart… in part because they are smarter than he is, in part because they feel that supporting him makes them part of a group of superior minds:

 … we all know that Obama is a genius. We have been told by Valerie Jarrett, by his media lapdogs and even by the great man himself that he is just too smart to do his job. And it's reasonable that a genius would be bored by the tedious tasks involved in running the most powerful nation on earth.

But what is "smart" anyway? What makes Obama a genius? It's not his IQ. It's probably not his grades or we would have seen them already. It's that like so many of the thought leaders and TED talkers, he makes his supporters feel smart. The perception of intelligence is really a reflection.

He continues:

Everyone who encountered him thought that he was smart because he made them feel smart. And that is the supreme duty of the modern liberal intellectual, not to be smart, but to make others feel smart. Genuine intelligence is threatening. Manufactured intelligence is soothing. And those intellectually superior progressives who need to believe that Obama is smart in order to believe that they are smart cannot stop believing in his brains without confronting the illusion of their own intelligence.

Obviously, you cannot make other people feel that they are smart if you are really smart. To practice reverse intelligence you need to be good at acting a role, that is, performing.

It’s a sociological phenomenon. Individuals who consider themselves members of an elite group exchange passwords and hand signals. These have no meaning beyond their ability to demonstrate that one belongs. In some circles you gain membership by tossing around nonsense words like heteronormative.

Greenfield explains:

It constantly invents new terms to provide the enlightened elites with a secret language of Newspeak buzzwords that mean less than the words they are replacing. The buzzwords, Thought Leader and Change Agent, quickly take on cultist overtones and become ways of describing how the group's leaders would like to use power, than anything about the world that they describe.

It’s all about the difference between thinking and feeling. If you are dealing with actual intelligence, you might have to think about what the person is saying. You might have to accept that he knows more than you do. You might even have to put in some effort, that is, some work.

If you are listening to someone who is practicing reverse intelligence, you do not have to think at all. You need to learn how to drop the right words and phrases into a conversation; you need to have the right opinions; you need to feel the right feelings; but that is all. Secure in your feeling that you belong to a superior class of individuals, you can bask in the glow.

It has more to do with enhanced self-esteem than with actually learning anything. Generations of American students have been taught that they are great, no matter what their actual achievements. Accustomed to receiving unearned praise they have lost the habit of thinking and working. They need constant affirmation of their brilliance, because they have always used their feelings as a way to avoid work. Besides, the last thing they want to hear is the truth about how smart they aren’t.

But, as Bob Dylan once famously wrote: “How does it feel?”

Greenfield explains:

It is its assumption of intelligence through compassionate self-involvement, progressive insights derived from an obsession with the self and the sanctification of Third World references, real or imaginary, invoking the spiritual power of the Other, the totem of alien magic, to transcend the rational and the pragmatic. It is upscale Oprah; egotism masquerading as enlightenment, condescension as compassion and soothing quotes as religion.

Those who traffic in reverse intelligence are not interested in doing anything. They are not worrying about solving problems. They are, Greenfield says, more interested in justifying their own positions of power and authority. Believing themselves to possess a superior intelligence,belonging to what Plato called the Guardians, they arrogate to themselves the right to make decisions for the rest of us. 

Think of Obamacare. 


Lastango said...

Excellent, thought-provoking piece!

Pseudo-knowledge seemed to gain momentum in the 1960's, when it was deemed sufficient - indeed, superior - to be in touch with the mystic powers of the universe. Young people, particularly at university, began to genuflect to those able to strike the pose of possessing this special participation in cosmic awareness. Here's how George Will put it in 1991:

"Morrison's short, shabby life, and its peculiar echo today, express a longing that waxes and wanes like a low-grade infection but never quite disappears from temperate, rational bourgeois societies. It reflects a vague - very vague - desire to (in the words of The Doors' anthem) 'break on through to the other side.' Through what? To what? Don't ask. The Doors didn't. People who talk like The Doors are not, as such people say, 'into' details."

Even back then, before it was fully erected into the Ptoemkin Village it has since become, this dull-in-a-new-way elitism contained the punitive dimension now so evident at universities: disagree, and you will be ostracized. If you are a student who discerns the spiritual and political frauds behind recycling and eco-awareness you will lose your friends. If you are a professor who takes a stand against campus speech codes and PC totalitarianism you will be blackballed and never get tenure.

The Peace&Love ethos was never far from its tribal viciousness. One must believe, enlist, and proselytize. Use the right codewords, and all will be well. Someone who has talent as an opinion-shaper or can enthral followers, will prosper beyond all merit. As La Raza says about themselves, "For The Race, everything. For the others, nothing."

n.n said...

Ego stroking. It's a class of perception manipulation which promotes self-esteem unbacked by achievement.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, so many things to say in support of Greenfield's thoughts here. I work in a profession full of people intoxicated with this kind of nonsense. When it somehow comes out that I'm pretty much an orthodox Roman Catholic Christian, there's a deafening silence. People are agog at how conventional and intellectually vacant I am. They're shocked that I could be so "stupid" and not "think for [my]self." Yes, I have been told these things verbatim. Meanwhile, these same critics lap up TED content with an old-time revival fury. "Did you see the latest TED talk?" is code to assess your level of intelligence and open-minded see, which is just chic conformity.

And think about it: these are the same high-minded, intelligent people who advocate for in-state tuition for illegal aliens at public universities. It may sound good, but it makes no sense whatsoever. That's the kind of thinking that passes for worldliness today.


Anonymous said...

There is an astonishing lack of humility with such people.

Anonymous said...

One other thing: I suspect that everything Greenfield is talking about is an excellent hypothesis for why atheism is on the rise. It's to create this aura of pseudo-wisdom and rugged individualism. Our modern empirical world demands that spiritual truths conform to scientific proof. But they can't. People who don't understand this see religiosity as crazy talk. After all, intelligence is measured by this supposedly "objective" proof. If you can't prove God, it isn't good form, it's not chic... it leaves one open to ridicule. Meanwhile, talking heads from the manufactured intelligence class prattle on about this nice, cute, tidy view of love and how important it is that we all "love" everyone (as they do, of course). So I then ask them to prove love and I get stunned silence, followed by a change of subject.

I will never forget when an "enlightened" colleague told me that her Sufi teacher is non-denominational. It took everything in my power to not laugh in her face. It's sanitized transcendental self-congratulation masquerading as spiritual openness. It's silly. It gives me great compassion for real Indian yogis who lament that people in the West have co-opted and emptied yoga of it's deep meaning and spiritual value.

If you haven't seen the movie "Kumare," I highly recommend it.


David Foster said...

Related: Knowledge vs Knowingness

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking of one of those dumb shared Facebook sayings. Let's try one:

Strawmen - The all-purpose source for making resentful bullshitters feel better bashing other more sucessful bullshitters since God created Women from Adam's rib, or maybe since Al Gore created the internet, you decide.

Anonymous said...


Here's a 10 minute portion of the movie you mentioned, looks sincere. Kumare - HD Movie

Its a curious question - should we mock those who feel a need to blindly follow gurus?

Adoration is what seems scariest, whether for movie stars, or religious leaders. I don't know why some people need this, and I'm sure leaders are well served by people around them who are not under such spells to ground the easy gradiosity of people hanging on your every word.

Dennis said...

Interestingly a large amount of TED talk can be perceived as anything one wants it to mean.
There are a significant number of people who are followers. They are not the self starters or in many cases the truly imaginative. They need a group to identify with because they have not learned who they are as individuals. I would suggest that why there is such an emphasis on the collective vice individuals using their GOD given talents to create.
Question: Are any of you as interested in people's choices for screen names? I am almost willing to bet that some of the more descriptive ones would feel perfectly at home in the audience of a TED lecture?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1/6/2014 12:58 AM:

I don't know, should we mock those who blindly follow gurus? It's a value-loaded question. What do you say?

For what it's worth, I'm not mocking "those who feel a need to blindly follow gurus."

I am pointing out two things, based on the original Greenfield piece referenced in the original post: (1) the reflexive disdain for organized religion by the "reverse intelligence" set who maintain a socially-reinforced, secular faith-based orthodoxy of their own; and (2) the similar need of some to advertise their exotic path of faith as a sign of worldliness or open-mindedness. We all seek those who relate to and think like us. It's normal. It's human. Mocking those who choose something different than you, while simultaneously positioning yourself as a "free thinker," is a remarkable contradiction.

We all need faith in something. It's part of being human, and a requirement to maintain sanity. What I object to is the shallow arrogance of many who deem themselves rich in analytical intelligence (technicians or academics, as examples) and/or posture themselves as spiritually-enlightened because they follow an exotic brand of faith. It gives false security. Being analytical is not the same as being creative. One can analyze another's work, lifestyle, etc. from a reactive stance and never create anything of value.

It's easy to be a critic. It's easy to call others "bitter clingers" in a self-congratulatory way ("We're not, they are..."). Sitting from on high admonishing the faults of society -- while offering few creative, workable solutions -- is how we end up with things like ObamaCare. That's why humility is a virtue.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1/6/2014 12:58 AM:

As for the clip you offered about "Kumare," it's the beginning of the movie... the first 10 minutes. I invite you to view the entire movie and evaluate its "sincerity." Like any piece of art, it can be viewed multiple ways.

What I have postulated is that there is a need for some to choose something (whatever it is) that is different because it is different, as a point of pride, to maintain a mask. We all mask the shortcomings we want to hide. What I am saying is that the efficacy of the mask is suspect.

In the case of what Greenfield is pointing out, the mask of "reverse intelligence" does not actually make one more intelligent. I can watch a bunch of videos about Adobe Photoshop, but it doesn't make me an expert design practitioner of a better evaluator of works of art. I'm a spectator until I practice. I suspect many who fit the "reverse intelligence" mold think that being a spectator is practice, which it is not.

To your core point, you are correct... I am talking about "adoration." And no, it is not helpful to either party because there are limited growth opportunities. To grow, we must move beyond passive spectatorship and imitation. We must become creative ourselves.


Anonymous said...

My current "guru" of interest is Canadian pyschologist Jordan Peterson, like this lecture called "Reality and the Sacred", among others...

He follows the Mythological approach of Joseph Campbell, which I think is useful in side-stepping simplistic good/bad narratives.

I better trust "gurus" that don't sugar coat prescriptive advice, or make promises that following a pattern can work for all, but prefer ones who show the tensions that exist, and let the listeners recognize where both sides exist in themselves.

n.n said...


Religion needs to be divided into its constituent parts: faith, morality, history, and organization.

Unless your perception is constrained to a limited frame of reference, then you have a faith or philosophical basis. Very few people function without faith. If we define faith as blind or unverified trust, then there are perhaps no people who operate without it.

As for morality, whether as an expression of freewill or coercion, few people are capable of escaping its temperance, and usually not for long.

History is a record of the success and failure of our choices. It offers either positive or negative reinforcement of religion (i.e. moral philosophy).

Organization has an ambiguous character. It has both positive and negative aspects. The latter is notable in its predisposition to sponsor corruption of individuals and instill a desire to dominate.

So, everyone is religious, even atheists. The distinguishing feature is the nature of the philosopher. God who is both omniscient and omnipotent can be characterized as perfect and his moderation is always wise. People place their faith in mortal gods because they expect or demand a material return. It's ironic that secular individuals are more likely to favor intelligent design in order to secure their mortal pleasure and comfort.